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Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 8 - Transitional Rovers Strive To Remain Part Of The Conversation

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A slightly longer version of this week's Accrington Observer column


Transitional Rovers Strive To Remain Part Of The Conversation

As the old gag has it, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be...” and for various reasons this last week, my mind has wandered to times gone by, evoking many different emotions and memories, let me explain...

Over a weekend that saw the final test cricket of an epic summer being unfurled, it was cricket, albeit of a somewhat lower standard, that prevented me from attending Ewood in person last weekend. I found myself “doing my bit for the (cricket) club” by standing as an umpire in a match that was part of the centenary celebrations of the bank’s sports ground in Beckenham, at which I had first played in my halcyon days shall we say. 

The afternoon of sport was opened by a former bank clerk and World Cup winning captain in yet another sport, 2003 hero Martin Johnson, still looking outrageously fit and healthy, whose entertaining and eloquent reflections on his career in and out of rugby set the tone nicely.

“Sport is about bringing people together....” was Johnson’s main message, whether that is as teammates, opponents, spectators or even match officials. That said, his second main point appeared to be that if you worked for a bank in the 1980’s, playing international rugby was a cracking way to obtain extra holidays and don't worry too much if your till didn't balance at close of business. I could have used such a concession myself as staff and customers of Midland Bank Accrington will no doubt testify..!

Whilst travelling, I had been passing time on the train by browsing through my digital photos, recalling my cricket from ten years previously and that set me off on one of those Google rabbit holes, as my mind inevitably drifted to events at Ewood ten years previously. 

Who were we playing? 

What team was selected? 

How did we fare? 

How were we feeling?

Well, full marks to anyone who can answer without reference to Google, but I shall reveal all.

It was of course the last full season before the infamous sale of the club to Venky’s and the ninth consecutive top-flight one being enjoyed at Ewood. Rovers had started relatively poorly under Sam Allardyce, taking one point from the first three games and scoring just one goal. Wolves were due up next and were despatched 3-1 with goals from Diouf, Roberts and Dunn. How much has changed since then?

Well clearly, quite a lot; Rovers are in a different division, the attendance that day against Wolves was a healthy 24,845 in the days before the Waggott Tax and the squad that season included Champions League winning Michel Salgado (making his debut as a late substitute that day against Wolves), a midfielder who in 2018 would go on to win a World Cup for France, namely Stephen Nzonzi and a promising young English defender, discovered and nurtured by Steve Kean (!), one Phil Jones...whatever happened to him and all those add-on bonuses we were sure to earn from his transfer?

Fast forward to September 2019 and it’s now Millwall that are the visitors in front of 11,873 spectators. Tony Mowbray elected to shuffle his pack, employing a new formation and giving John Buckley his first League start. Mowbray has tinkered with three centre backs before but chose to combine it here with Armstrong up front. The cost was that Graham, Gallagher and Travis all started on the bench. It surprised many Rovers fans and seemed to have a similar impact on Millwall boss Neil Harris.

I’m not sure why this match was chosen for such an experiment and whilst in recent weeks I have queried the seeming lack of chemistry in central midfield between Travis & Johnson, it was quite a surprise to learn that Travis was the sacrificial lamb to accommodate Buckley, especially as it was Johnson who was hooked at half time against WBA. Buckley would be the half time change this time and Travis wouldn't feature until the death, replacing the impressive Stuart Downing.

I suspect that Derek Williams is not the player that many would have identified pre-season as being the prime candidate to take over the Charlie Mulgrew mantle of “key goal-scoring defender”, but hot on the heels of his winner at Hull he opened the scoring here with what could rightfully be described as a scorcher. If I were Williams I would consider practising free kicks and penalties and affecting a Scottish accent.

Last season, Sheffield United’s overlapping centre backs were the wonder of the age but the second Rovers goal could have been straight out of the Chris Wilder playbook; Lenihan crosses, Williams desperate to add to his tally slides in at the back post but narrowly fails to connect, leaving the lively Dack to slot home. 

It’s perhaps just as well that the goals are being shared around, as Gallagher and Armstrong are still to open their league accounts, Danny Graham is seemingly being courted by Western Sydney Wanderers and Brereton is recovering from knee surgery. Dack is currently carrying the lion’s share of the scoring burden and must be grateful for any assistance from whatever source. Four clean sheets in five, (the WBA aberration apart) is definitely welcome news whether it will prove to be three or four at the back that endures.

Ten years on, Rovers find themselves still seemingly in transition. The plan for a Premier return still undergoing recalibration. Rather than being right at the heart of the promotion conversation, Rovers remain in earshot, but no matter what the transfer activity in the previous window, we seem to be perennially consigned to being a couple of players short of a genuine promotion push. What are the chances that the next two inbound transfers will be a former Real Madrid favourite and a future World Cup winner? 

Well at the time of writing, the next player in is set to be free agent and German international (with an English father), Lewis Holtby. This potential move for the former Spurs and Fulham man seems to confirm that a significant factor in signing for Rovers now, is having the same first name as an existing squad member. Bradley, Sam, Joe and now Lewis adds credence to the emerging hypothesis. If there's a 13 year old "Kylian" or "Lionel" in the academy I might just get giddy with the potential...

Midfield is possibly well stocked in terms of numbers and by possibly, I mean definitely. One can only imagine that if this move is finalised, then the likes of Smallwood, Davenport and Rankin-Costello may well be candidates to exit in January, on loan at the very least; albeit for different reasons.

Reading away next up and that falls into the category of one of those fixtures that a serious promotion candidate will look to win. They have lost their last two, at home to Charlton and away at Middlesbrough, but looked very impressive as they dismantled Cardiff City earlier in August. They do however, boast “Pele” and “Puscas” in their ranks so perhaps deserve some respect. Now if they had two Peles and two Puscases, well that would really be something.




Screenshot 2019-09-18 at 22.30.27pm.jpg


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